The news of Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington's passing came at a watershed moment for me.
I was in Canterbury for the day, visiting a good friend from university. We had both graduated from Kent that month. No more deadlines to meet. No more looming exams to fill our waking hours with revision for. Nothing we needed to work hard for, or play hard to compensate for. There was the sense of an ending, or more accurately, that we had reached what appeared to be the end of a text we'd immersed ourselves in for so long only to find an incomplete sentence with a semicolon appending the final word. We were in a strange transitory period. A no man's land.
It will be obvious to many that I'm invoking the sentiments of Project Semicolon in part of that exposition. Project Semicolon was founded by the late Amy Bleuel in 2013, a non-profit mental health organisation which encouraged those who struggled with suicidal thoughts to tattoo semicolons on their bodies in solidarity with one another. The symbol is intended to illustrate a time "when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to" and that "the author is you and the sentence is your life."
As abruptly as the curtains fell on our university days, one of the most salient musical icons of our generation put an end to his sentence.
It's very seldom that the death of a celebrity becomes a particularly poignant occasion for me. But Chester had been one of the chief narrators of the lion's share of my teen years. I couldn't hope to count up the hours I spent listening to Hybrid Theory, Meteora &Minutes to Midnight. I memorized the lyrics, played air guitar to an imaginary arena of fans in my bedroom and even tried to write my own (appalling) lyrics and riffs in the nu metal genre the band popularized.
But the paramount point is the subject matter of those lyrics I memorized, and what those meant to so many of us. I've never had time for those who engage in "musical snobbery" as I label it, particularly the pernicious habit of music critics to erect a false dichotomy between high culture and popular culture. A sonic landscape where Killing Joke & Aphex Twin's eccentricity is deemed worthy of our time, but Linkin Park and Calvin Harris' output is written off as mass-produced, passing fads with little artistic merit.
I'm not going to claim that Bennington's lyrics are worthy of the same merit that the work of Emily Dickinson or Percy Shelley receives. But I know who I, and the majority of my fellow millenials, devoted more time to studying in our formative years. Those lyrics were therapeutic to hear while we all navigated our way through the rocky stages of our development as young adults. They were simple, but sometimes simple is best. As friends came and went in my life, In The End spoke to me. As paranoid thoughts would cast a pall over the latter of my schooldays, Papercut's pulsating guitar and cathartic lyrics spoke to me when I was being badly bullied, and I had no idea who to trust. The songs don't all hold negative connotations for me either. The wall of sound that fused my two favourite musical genres together, rock and hip-hop, helped expose me to most of the bands that fill the capacity of my iPod today.
It's probably fair to speculate that Chester internalized much of the negativity that detractors threw his way as an artist, and made conscious choices to make sharp changes in the texture of his musical output to transcend such criticisms. It was the accusation that the band had "sold out" that hurt him the most though. Chester had expressed his frustrations with those who accused the band of embracing more commercially friendly sounds in an article with Music Week just two months before his death, instructing those accusers to "stab [themselves] in the face" and "move the fuck on" from the band's record-breaking debut Hybrid Theory album. Furthermore, he stated in the same interview that "when you make it personal, like a personal attack against who we are as people, like, dude, shut up. That means that I can actually have feelings about it and most of the time my feelings are 'I want to kill you.'"
I must be transparent. As soon as I heard the first single from the latest album, Heavy, I was bitterly disappointed. I didn't feel as if it was a sell out, or a cynical ploy to cross over to mainstream radio as some decried the band for. It just felt devoid of the passion I heard within the rest of their discography. It felt dense, numb and banal. So I didn't even bother listening to the album One More Light until after Chester's death.
In light of the circumstances, the album deserves a reassessment by its detractors, or indeed an initial assessment in my case. It's better than I assumed it would be. The most noteworthy portion of the album is the title track, and its lyrics. The chorus goes like this - "If they say, who cares if one more light goes out? In the sky of a million stars, it flickers, flickers. Who cares when someone's time runs out? If a moment is all we are, or quicker, quicker. Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do."
Well, everybody I wish to speak for does, Chester. You weren't just one more light going out, your passing resembled a resplendent supernova to your legions of fans around the world. No matter what was swimming around in your mind during those final moments, I hope you knew for at least some of the time how valued you really were.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bennington family, the band and all of their associates.
For any of my readers who experience suicidal thoughts, UK readers can call the Samaritans on 116 123, and US readers can call 1-800-8255 (TALK) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.